In a league where the premium is on muscle, Illinois is well equipped for the fight. As for Maryland, not so much. In all seven of its Big Ten games, the Terps have been outscored in the paint.
Friday night when No. 17 Illinois (13-4, 6-1 Big Ten) travels to Maryland (9-9, 1-6), the visitors will try for the second time this year to overpower the Terps.
Two weeks ago, Kofi Cockburn, all 7-foot and 285 pounds of him, tallied 23 points and 18 rebounds in a 76-64 Illini win in Champaign, Ill. The Terps were up by six in the second half before Cockburn inflicted his will. Sixteen of his points and 15 of his boards came after the break.
Demonstrating Maryland’s inability to deal with Cockburn was that two Terps fouled out trying to guard him and finished with a combined four points and eight rebounds.
That night, Cockburn had to contend with foul trouble of his own. When he drew his second foul midway through the first half, Illinois was up by 14 points. During his time off the floor, the Terps outscored the Illini by 18.
Cockburn’s presence often has determined the success of Illinois. One of its losses (to Marquette) came when Cockburn was serving a suspension. Two others came when Cockburn fouled out, including Monday’s 96-88 double overtime loss to Purdue. In 22 minutes, Cockburn had 10 points and five rebounds, ending his streak of nine double-doubles.
The good news for Illinois was the return of Andre Curbelo, who had 20 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes in his first game since suffering a concussion nearly eight weeks ago.
“I had an idea going in, I’d play him, six to eight minutes. He’s in horrific shape,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “You talk about a young man who’s done very little in the last six to eight weeks and he impacted the game at a pretty high level. So we’ll continue to work that piece back in, but it’s nice to have (a preseason) All-American guard find his way back into your program.”
Maryland has a tough task on Friday as it enters having lost five of its last six. Tuesday’s 83-64 loss to a struggling Michigan team was the Terps’ largest defeat this season. Before the game was 10 minutes old, Maryland was down by a double-digit margin. After that, it never made a serious run.
Once again, the Terps were riddled inside as they were outscored in the paint 44-24. The Wolverines’ 7-1 Hunter Dickinson (21 points, six assists) and 6-11 Moussa Diabate (14 points) combined to hit 16 of 24 shots from the floor.
Terps backcourt starters Fatts Russell and Hakim Hart opened on the bench because of an “internal matter.” Both were in the game after the first media timeout but they combined for only five points in their 49 minutes on the floor.
“This is just a way to challenge them,” interim coach Danny Manning said. “We’re at the point now where we’re going to push some buttons. We’re going to do some things that are a little bit different and see what happens.”
–Field Level Media